Camp – the Quintessential Childhood Experience

Childhood is a time of profound change and development. It is exciting and cause for trepidation at the same time. When it comes to our children, we must strive to ensure change is a growing opportunity that will stand them in good stead for the future. The fact that our kids will inherit all the economic, social and environmental challenges we’ve created makes both the tangible and intangible skills they learn in their youth all the more important.

So, how do we prepare our children with the competencies they will need to tackle changes in our world? We could start with a positive camp experience. A quality camp experience provides children with the opportunity to learn powerful lessons in community, character-building and healthy living in a meaningful, engaged and participatory environment – not to mention a laundry list of invaluable developmental skills.

According to the Search Institute, young people have seven developmental needs:

1. Physical activity
2. Competence and achievement
3. Self-definition
4. Creative self-expression
5. Positive social interactions
6. Structure and clear limits
7. Meaningful participation

Camp addresses each of these needs within a community created to show kids how to live together and care for one another. There are norms and negotiation of boundaries; there are rules. Camp allows kids to “practice” growing up, stretching their social, emotional, physical and cognitive muscles outside the context of their immediate family.

Camp teaches critical thinking. We need to remember how important it is to be actively involved in the learning process, and camp affords that. We’ll need really strong problem solvers in the next century. While children need courses like science, math and biology without the ability to relate, connect, empathize or inspire innovation, how will they learn to truly make a difference in the face of the challenges to come?

While our children have fewer and fewer opportunities to be outdoors, the camp experience embraces the natural environment and advances outdoor learning. The environment must be experienced to be appreciated. Kids need to catch tadpoles in the creek, wander among the trees, and feel the sun on their faces to understand the importance of those things. Every child should experience firsthand the wonder of a sky full of stars in the dark of night.

Camp creates future leaders. The camp experience offers kids a close-up look at compassionate leadership through the camp director, counselors, resident nutritionist and other camp personnel. And kids get loads of opportunities to practice being a leader themselves – song leader, lunch table leader, team captain, the list goes on and on.

Camp is an equal opportunity life changer. It addresses universal childhood needs not specific to a particular racial, ethnic or socioeconomic group. Nobody is left out. It’s all about childhood development.

Camp makes a lasting impact. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a sense of success and achievement. Through active participation, camp teaches kids to ask questions, ask for help and try new things. They leave understanding that it’s okay to feel a little uncomfortable sometimes, because that’s generally what happens when they’re getting ready to learn something. And they also see that failure is an acceptable and inevitable part of the learning process. It breeds resilience and translates into a can-do attitude long after a child has returned to the real world.

Indeed, the camp experience is uniquely positioned to provide growth opportunities in each of the skill areas necessary to foster future life success in our children. Camp is the antidote for the world’s challenges. It is the perfect complement to family, school and community youth activities in helping kids learn independence, decision-making, and social and emotional competence — all under the supervision of positive adult role models. Camp is the quintessential childhood experience for preparing youth to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults.

The American Camp Association® (ACA) works to preserve, promote and enhance the camp experience for children and adults. ACA-Accredited® camp programs ensure that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. There are over 2,400 ACA-Accredited camps that meet up to 290 health and safety standards. For more information, visit

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